Council and Administration Spar Over Wages
May 11th, 2010
But that was after a representative from the administration said the bill would squash economic development, lower property tax revenue, test the fate of senior centers (not to mention the myriad nonprofit capital projects council members hold dearly) and is, in a nutshell, against the city charter.
Needless to say, those so-called negotiations might not go very well.
For the first time, the City Council held a hearing this morning on a measure to require entities that receive more than $10,000 of city assistance annually to pay a prevailing wage for building service employees. The bill could have a huge impact on the city’s service sector, including a wealth of agencies and tenants of city contracted properties. This wide-ranging impact is at the heart of the administration’s opposition.
“It’s quite broad and it affects basically everything the city does,” said Tokumbo Shobowale, chief of staff to Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Bob Lieber. “Rather than do harm, we prefer the deliberative approach,” he added.
The administration would rather the City Council hold off on any wage requirement mandate until it conducts a living wage study, which it is scheduled to complete in 2011.
Supporters of the bill, including 32BJ, saw that preference as a way to delay the proposal.
“The issue of doing a study has been going on for five years,” said 32BJ Executive Vice President Kevin Doyle — who represents service employees and is a major supporter of the bill. “The time to do a study and use that to deter action is passed.”
Council members questioned the administration’s opposition to the bill when its own representative said the city wouldn’t truly know the impact of this type of policy until its study was completed.
“You’re not coming in any sort of spirit of cooperation,” said the bill’s sponsor, Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito. “We are not and should not be in the business of adding poverty wage jobs.” Mark-Viverito said she had approached the administration to sit down and discuss the bill earlier this year, but never received a response.
Shobowale said the bill would make the city a less desirable tenant, and it would raise the operating cost for organizations and companies who receive city aid. In this economy, he said, that’s the last thing the city should be doing.
In addition to those that receive city subsidies or grants, the bill would also apply to entities that contract with the city for rental space. The prevailing wage requirement would apply to the entire building, even if the city and its contracted co-tenant did not occupy the majority of the space.
Despite opposition from the administration, the bill has garnered 34 sponsors — more than the council would need to approve it and just enough to override a mayoral veto. Mark-Viverito sounded confident this morning that the council would move forward with the bill, but also said it would consider amendments to address critics’ concerns, including increasing the amount of financing needed to trigger the wage mandate.
At the end of this morning’s hearing, the adminsitration too sounded a conciliatory note.
“The administration views this as a very significant matter,” said Shobowale. “We very much want to address this issue.”By Courtney Gross on May 11, 2010, 5:02 pm
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